Want a Job? Hand Over Your Password

May 11th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Should your Facebook log-in be fair game for potential employers?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

We already know that human resources professionals use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media accounts to check up on prospective employees. But is it reasonable for potential employers to ask for your Facebook login name and password – especially when your privacy settings are locked down?

The Associated Press recently brought one such story to light. Justin Bassett, a New York City statistician, had just finished answering a few character questions for a new job when his interviewer turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page. When she couldn’t see his private profile, she asked him to hand over his login information. Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn’t want to work for a company that would seek to pry into his personal information. “But as the job market steadily improves,” the story noted, “other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no.”

The trend has some senators, such as Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) proposing new laws to ban the practice. In a recent statement, Schumer remarked, “Employers have no right to ask job applicants for their house keys or to read their diaries – why should they be able to ask them for their Facebook passwords and gain unwarranted access to a trove of private information about what we like, what messages we send to people, or who we are friends with?” Schumer and Blumenthal have asked the Justice Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to rule on whether Facebook fishing is already illegal, and Blumenthal said a new law might be "necessary to stop unreasonable and unacceptable invasions of privacy."

While isolated incidents – such as Bassett’s story – have received plenty of press, the practice so far doesn’t seem to be widespread (particularly since the legality of the practice is in a legal grey area). Schumer and Blumenthal believe demanding a person’s log-in information probably violates anti-discrimination laws, since it potentially gives companies a look at an applicant's religious views, ethnicity, sexual preference and other protected information. It may also flout laws against unauthorized access to electronic data. Facebook also opposes the practice; in fact, sharing your password violates the company’s terms of service.

What do you think? As our social habits continue to change with technology, are potential employers justified in demanding access to online information? Or does it take advantage of would-be workers who can’t afford to walk away? Let us know your thoughts.